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Cockfighting: Federal bill to outlaw practice is introduced

Tulsa World

By JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
3/28/2003

WASHINGTON -- As Oklahoma continues to grapple with the fallout from last year's vote outlawing cockfighting, lawmakers here introduced federal legislation Thursday to help put an end to the practice.

"As a veterinarian, I've seen firsthand the horrible injuries animals can suffer as a result of this barbaric practice, and as a senator, I'm determined to stop it," said U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., the bill's principal sponsor.

Ensign's bill, a follow-up measure to legislation that was passed last year, would increase the penalty to a felony for the interstate transportation of animals for the purpose of fighting.

It also would ban the transportation of weapons designed specifically for cockfighting.

"By establishing a felony under federal law, we will be able to punish and deter those who profit from the pain and suffering of animals," Ensign said.

He said current law limits such crimes to misdemeanors, adding that very few prosecutions result.

Since 1976, Ensign said, federal officials have pursued only three cases of animal fighting.

Nevada's senior senator, Democrat Harry Reid, is one of Ensign's 10 co-sponsors and holds the No. 2 leadership post in the minority.

"Forcing animals to fight is a cruel, barbaric practice that has no place in our society," Reid said. "This bill will help end the practice."

The Humane Society of the United States, a leading opponent of cockfighting, called on senators to support the Ensign bill.

"Dogfighting and cockfighting are gruesome and barbaric activities that should receive no protection under the law," said Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president of the organization.

"This legislation will put real teeth into the federal animal fighting law, and, if enacted, will go a long way toward wiping out these dreadful industries."

Pacelle recalled that both houses of Congress passed a provision last year establishing a felony penalty for cockfighting.

That provision was gutted when the measure was in conference.

Oklahoma became the 48th state last year to make cockfighting illegal.

Pacelle said the activity is legal only in Louisiana and parts of New Mexico, adding that the practice carries a felony penalty in 28 states.

Under the initiative approved in November, Oklahoma became one of those states.

It appears, however, that state voters might get another say on the penalty.

A bill moving through the state Legislature calls for a vote of the people on whether to lower the penalties from a felony to a misdemeanor.

State Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, one of the major backers of that effort, expressed hope that Congress would reject the Ensign bill.

"I hope Congress turns that effort down," he said.

"It is a shame that taxpayers are being asked to fund putting people who raise chickens in the penitentiary."

Shurden said those who support felony penalties for cockfighting will next go after zoos, hunting and even fishing.

"Only your avid animal-rights people think you should be in the penitentiary for animal crimes," Shurden said.